We notice it most clearly in brainstorming, but it can happen in any meeting. Some people dominate the conversation (I'll call them Outspoken), while others seem unable to get a chance to speak (I'll call them Softspoken). When the Softspoken do get a chance to speak, an Outspoken often interrupts, preventing the Softspoken from finishing a thought. Eventually, the Softspoken give up trying, if they don't actually leave the room. Or, in virtual meetings, they sign off or begin indulging in their favorite digital pastimes.
Understanding the experiences of all involved helps us allocate airtime more fairly. Let's begin by exploring the inner experience of the Outspoken.
- Excited, capable, and articulate
- Some of the Outspoken are excited and passionate about the discussion. If they're also knowledgeable and articulate, they might feel an overwhelming desire to contribute. They're so fully involved that they're unaware that they're taking more than their fair share of the airtime.
- Seeking attention
- To gain attention, some of the Outspoken exploit their advantages. Motivations differ. Some want to make a case for a particular mission that they hope the group will adopt. Some hope to enhance their own political stature, possibly to gain promotion or influence. Others seek to dominate solely for the thrill of domination.
- Believing no one has anything to say
- When a pause in the conversation occurs, or even before a pause develops, the Outspoken are more likely to believe that no one has anything to say. They conclude that it's permissible to contribute whatever might be in their minds.
- Rude or careless of the rights of others
- Some of the Outspoken recognize that their own behavior is rude, but they're either careless of the rights of others, or they feel that the discussion is so important and urgent that civility and politeness must be temporarily suspended.
- Strategically assertive
- Someone When someone repeatedly dominates
meetings, understanding the
experiences of all involved helps
us allocate airtime more fairlywho wants to limit opportunities for others to express points of view contrary to their own might steer the conversation in what they regard as a safe direction. They speak at length, and interrupt anyone who might express a contrary view. What might seem to be simple rudeness can actually be strategic.
- Politically powerful
- When the Outspoken are politically powerful, some consider them to be demonstrating their power. They don't actually have a point to make, other than that they're in charge. Perhaps. Also possible: the Outspoken feel threatened, weak, and small, and they dominate the meeting to validate their own images of themselves.
- Composite Outspoken
- The Outspoken might be two or three (or more) individuals, allied with a single purpose. They might plan in advance to express their point of view in a way that deprives others of airtime. But because the Outspoken are multiple people, they don't seem to be dominating the meeting.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings
or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III
- When we need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, we risk giving offense. Still, there
are times when interrupting is in everyone's best interest. Here are some more techniques for interrupting
in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.